CFB Underclassmen Who Won't Live Up to the Hype in 2019

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2019

CFB Underclassmen Who Won't Live Up to the Hype in 2019

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    College football recruiting has become such a huge industry, it's easy to get sucked into the hype. Even if you don't, a lot of times players will begin to believe their own before they accomplish anything.

    That's led to a high number of early transfers, and while there are plenty of exceptional young players who burst onto the scene each year, there are five who don't live up to massive expectations for every one who does.

    Sometimes, there are simply too many headlines early on, and players' ceilings are exaggerated or fans' hopes are unrealistic. Most often, it just takes a while for younger players to adapt to college ball. 

    They can't all be Trevor Lawrence or Tua Tagovailoa, after all.

    The 2018 season just ended with Clemson taking it all, but we've already begun looking ahead to next season and trying to identify the next breakout stars in the game. Here are some guys with a heap of hype who won't reach superstardom next year.

JT Daniels, USC Quarterback

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    It doesn't help USC quarterback JT Daniels (or Ohio State transfer Justin Fields, for that matter) that he came out in the same recruiting class as Lawrence and will, by default, always be compared to the Clemson star in that class.

    The truth is Daniels reclassified and played as a true freshman for Southern Cal in 2018 when he should have been a high school senior at Mater Dei High School.

    Was that jump too quick, or does he just need a little more time to marinate in the college game? We're about to see in '19.

    Daniels struggled for the Trojans in 2018, completing 59.5 percent of his passes for 2,672 yards, 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. With playmaking receivers all around him, Daniels was slower to develop than many USC fans had hoped after he won the starting gig.

    Now, coach Clay Helton is firmly on the hot seat, and the Trojans are scrambling to find an offensive coordinator after Kliff Kingsbury bolted to be the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals before ever coaching a game at USC.

    The outlook for Daniels went from hopeful to a question mark with that decision. It was a yearlong development process for Daniels, who proved he could make all the throws but struggled with the simple stuff. It also didn't help that he had a poor offensive line.

    Daniels has all the tools, and he's going to have a wealth of offensive talent around him. But the uncertainty around Helton's situation could hurt in '19, and if the coach is fired, who knows how long it will take the quarterback to reach a comfort level?

    He needs to be significantly better next season, and a lot of that hinges on USC's staff.

Akeem Dent, Florida State Cornerback

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    Credit: 247Sports

    After Florida State failed to make a bowl game in coach Willie Taggart's first season in Tallahassee, the Seminoles are looking for help all over the field.

    The offensive issues are well-documented, stemming from a porous offensive line that contributed to embattled quarterback Deondre Francois and the running game underachieving in 2018. 

    But people forget about the defensive failures as well.

    The Seminoles were 80th in total defense, and even more amazing was the defensive backs wound up ranked 120th nationally against the pass. They may as well hang a "Help Wanted" sign and take all comers.

    One of the guys expected to help immediately is 5-star cornerback Akeem Dent, and the 5'11", 180-pound Deerfield Beach, Florida, standout has the potential to be a multiyear starter. But expecting him to be a difference-maker in '19 is far-fetched.

    Why? First of all, he's undersized and needs a year to fill out his frame in the strength and conditioning program. He also isn't a great tackler, and he isn't one of those instant-impact playmakers who looks smooth on the field.

    Dent is very fast and athletic, and he will be a strong player for Taggart down the road, but the Seminoles need immediate help, and they may be looking for Dent to do it. That ranking is more about ceiling than anything, though, and he isn't going to thrive right away.

    Be patient with him, though, because by the late part of his sophomore year, he'll start to flash.

Jadon Haselwood, Oklahoma Wide Receiver

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Every year, there is drama dripping off the recruitment of several marquee prospects, and where they're going to go becomes almost like a soap opera.

    One of those such situations this year came from 6'2.5", 196-pound wide receiver Jadon Haselwood, the top-ranked pass-catcher in the nation. He was committed to his home state Georgia Bulldogs for a long time. He then flirted with Miami and others before eventually signing with Oklahoma, announcing it at the Army All-American Bowl.

    Haselwood has a high upside and is a downfield threat, sure, but he's also not the kind of player who will make an immediate difference for coach Lincoln Riley in Norman.

    There are too many great receivers already with the Sooners, led by CeeDee Lamb, and though there is a major vacancy to fill with Marquise "Hollywood" Brown heading to the NFL, the Sooners are going to have options.

    Theo Wease and Trejan Bridges are more ready to help right away at receiver than Haselwood. The latter isn't a blazer, and he also doesn't run the most crisp routes, but he is an elite athlete who could star on both sides of the ball. 

    It would be a very un-Oklahoma thing to do, especially considering his upside as a receiver, but Haselwood would be a dynamic safety and would probably be a greater asset to OU at that position early in his career.

    Nobody is saying Haselwood is a bust. But when you're the top-ranked player at your position exiting high school, you're going to have to deal with high expectations quickly. Is Haselwood equipped to handle it if he isn't the first freshman receiver on the field for the Sooners?

    How quickly he blossoms will be worth monitoring. 

Terrace Marshall, LSU Wide Receiver

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    If you want to know just how hard it is to break out as a freshman receiver despite expectations, look no further than LSU sophomore Terrace Marshall. 

    The 6'4", 209-pound pass-catcher was the No. 3 receiver in the 2018 class and was expected to help revive a Tigers passing game that had been dormant for years. Though LSU got a little better in that part of the offense with transfer quarterback Joe Burrow, Marshall sputtered.

    Marshall was expected to be a consistent home run threat, but that never materialized. He finished with just 12 catches for 192 yards and a touchdown. 

    Fellow standout recruit Ja'Marr Chase failed to make as much of an impact as expected, finishing with just 313 yards and three scores.

    Both have to get stronger and more consistent, LSU passing game coordinator Jerry Sullivan told the Advocate's Brooks Kubena.

    "That's the gateway to being a good player in these days and times," he said. "You have to be able to get off the press. It's easy to run vertical routes when you get a free release."

    Marshall was so much better than everybody else in high school, he didn't have to worry. That's not the case in the SEC, and with Burrow back another year, he could see an increased number of catches in 2019, but stardom is still some time away.

    You also have to wonder if the Tigers are ever going to break through and be a dynamic passing team. Name the last great quarterback to come out of Baton Rouge; it's been a while.

    Marshall has tons of ability, but he has to get more aggressive, stronger and get more opportunities if he's going to live up to expectations as one of the most complete receivers in the 2018 class.

Tate Martell, Miami Quarterback

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Maybe Tate Martell entering the NCAA transfer portal could wind up being the best thing for Ohio State—if Georgia transfer Justin Fields is eligible right away. It could be huge for Miami and new coach Manny Diaz, too.

    Martell—who was in line to be the starter following Dwayne Haskins' decision to head to the NFL—unleashed on Fields when Fields transferred to Ohio State, per Kyle Rowland of the Blade.

    Then after the scathing comments, Martell entered his name into the portal and, on Tuesday, tweeted his intentions to transfer to Miami. Bummer for us, who will be deprived of an epic, no-love-lost QB battle at OSU.

    So, what's going to happen with Martell now, after he has to sit again in 2019 barring an NCAA waiver?

    The redshirt freshman is a dual-threat prospect, and he has the ability to be a good college player for the Hurricanes down the road. But he doesn't need to be scared of competition, especially after popping off on social media. It's certainly not bad to be confident, but arrogance isn't a good look.

    It's already a quarterback room with plenty of issues in Coral Gables, too (more on that later).

    Martell has some maturing to do, and while that kind of emotional fire can be good if harnessed, it also can be detrimental. He's created his own hype machine, and now there's plenty of uncertainty around what's left of his collegiate career.

    With Dan Enos entrenched as Miami's new offensive coordinator, Martell could learn a lot. But he probably won't be able to play right away, so little is guaranteed.

    It may have been better for him to avoid public comments and to simply compete for the Ohio State job. 

N'Kosi Perry, Miami Quarterback

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    All the quarterbacks on Miami's roster stand to benefit with new coach Manny Diaz making a splashy hire by bringing in Alabama assistant Dan Enos to be the offensive coordinator. Many thought Enos would take over for Mike Locksley at Alabama after he went to Maryland to be the head coach.

    Instead, Diaz locked him up, and Enos will make major strides with all of the Hurricanes' quarterbacks.

    That stable of signal-callers got a little deeper Tuesday night with the Martell transfer news. But what happens in 2019 with Martell presumably sitting out due to transfer rules? 

    One of the players who shows tons of potential but still needs his share of development is dual-threat quarterback N'Kosi Perry. He completed just 50.8 percent of his passes in 2018 as a part-time starter, finishing with 1,091 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions.

    Though Perry minimized mistakes, he also struggled to make anything happen downfield. He also didn't show good pocket presence and never looked like he could run effectively when plays broke down.

    Everybody was eager for him to get a shot in '18, and when he did, things didn't go as expected. Malik Rosier replaced him late in the season, even though neither quarterback inspired much confidence.

    Perry has a lot of growing up to do, on and off the field. He recently got in trouble for posting a sexually explicit video on Snapchat, according to the Miami Herald's Susan Miller Degnan. If he doesn't mature quickly, his immense talent may go to waste.

    With the elite potential of Martell and freshman Jarren Williams, the leash is short for Perry, who needs to seize the job in '19 or risk losing it forever. He hasn't shown anything yet to prove he can do it.

Trey Sanders, Alabama Running Back

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Kids say dumb things. Trey Sanders is still a kid, even if he's a very talented, athletically gifted kid who was the nation's top-ranked high school running back in the 2019 class.

    Upon signing with Alabama during the early signing period, Sanders said in his announcement on ESPNU (via Saturday Down South): "As a freshman at Alabama, I do plan on winning the Heisman."

    The only problem with that is the Crimson Tide are notorious for having several powerhouse running backs in a rotating backfield, and though Josh Jacobs is heading to the NFL a year early and Damien Harris is out of eligibility, there are still plenty of options.

    Najee Harris has star written all over him, and Brian Robinson Jr. is going to be good, too. There are other options in a capable stable for Nick Saban.

    So while Sanders should get his share of carries, getting enough to make a Heisman kind of impact is doubtful. It also puts a target squarely on his back and doesn't help matters for a freshman needing to endear himself to a group of players and coaches who are among the nation's best.

    It's a guarantee things won't be given to him in Tuscaloosa; he'll have to earn it.

    Sanders was largely unimpressive in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and though it's unfair to judge him based on a high school all-star game, it shows it's not always easy when you're playing against the best.

    The 6'0", 214-pound runner has all the tools, and he's as physically gifted as any runner coming out of high school. But he put the hype squarely on himself. It'll take him a while to have the spotlight solely on him in the UA backfield.

Justin Shorter, Penn State Wide Receiver

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    Corey Perrine/Getty Images

    The 2018 recruiting class is full of highly ranked wide receivers we're still waiting on to explode. For every big, impressive athlete who underperformed like Terrace Marshall, there were players like Clemson's Justyn Ross, Alabama's Jaylen Waddle and Purdue's Rondale Moore who proved they were ready to play.

    Another guy who belongs in Marshall's group is the nation's top-ranked receiver, Justin Shorter of Penn State. The 6'4", 226-pound pass-catcher looked like the real deal. But with a senior quarterback in Trace McSorley, you'd think he would have made an impact.

    He didn't.

    Shockingly, Shorter had just three catches for 20 yards. In the Citrus Bowl loss to Kentucky, Shorter had two catches for 17 yards, but he began to show promise in bowl practices.

    "The month Justin Shorter had, in my mind, was the best month I've seen from any of [Penn State's freshmen]," McSorley said, per's Mikey Mandarino. "He grew leaps and bounds in that last month."

    With Juwan Johnson transferring and coach James Franklin relieving receivers coach David Corley of his duties, it'll be a fresh start for Shorter in 2019. He needs one.

    The good news is the down year didn't affect any eligibility. Shorter was able to redshirt, and so the Nittany Lions will let him grow and develop.

    Nobody is denying his incredible skill set, and he should be a consistent playmaker down the road. But with McSorley gone and the Lions probably going through some offensive speed bumps in '19, Shorter isn't likely to have a big season. 

Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA Quarterback

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    When Chip Kelly elected to take the UCLA job a year ago, it looked like he had his ideal quarterback of the future in dual-threat star Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

    It didn't shake out that way in 2018.

    With the Bruins suffering through an abysmal season, Michigan transfer Wilton Speight wound up eventually winning the gig, even though he is not a prototypical Kelly signal-caller.

    Thompson-Robinson ended up throwing for 1,311 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions and rushing for 68 yards. Worst of all, he played in five games, meaning he can't redshirt, so he'll be a sophomore in 2019.

    It had to help Thompson-Robinson that Speight was around to help mentor him. Also, the Bruins did improve as the season progressed, beating USC late in the year. Many see DTR as the centerpiece of the offense, and if that's the case, he needs to recognize when to run and throw the ball more effectively, too.

    Like most teams, UCLA should be in the hunt to try to convince Jalen Hurts or another graduate transfer to come to Westwood, and that's not an indictment of DTR. He's a 6'1" quarterback, generously listed at 205 pounds, and he needs time in a weight room developing.

    He also has a raw skill set, and though he has limitless potential, he wasn't ready to be a full-time starter in the Pac-12 in 2018, and he will take his lumps in '19, too.

    There's still time for DTR to catch on, but you shouldn't expect the former 4-star to be a program savior just yet.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of Sports Reference and All recruiting information is from 247Sports, and rankings are from 247Sports' composite.

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.